- “(Djokovic) is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen.” – Gilbert
- “I think Halep could win a major.” – Evert
- “Never underestimate a Williams.” – Gilbert
- “It just shows by changing coaches (Federer)’s still in the hunt and still really wants it badly. He definitely could still win a major.” – Evert
ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert and Brad Gilbert spoke with media Monday about the Australian Open, which starts Sunday, Jan. 17 (Monday in Melbourne), with 100 live hours over two weeks including the usual marathon overnight telecasts on ESPN television and a record 1,400 on WatchESPN now that all courts are televised, culminating with the women’s and men’s championships. Highlights of the call, followed by the full context and other questions:
On: The Greatness of Djokovic.
- “He‘s an incredibly young 28. He’s in the prime of his career. To me, he’s set to do some unbelievable damage the next couple of years. He had one of the most dominant years last year. I said at the start of the year I thought he would win at least three. Right now he is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen… Joker has it all. There’s nothing boring about his game. His backhand is scripted from God. Like an Andre backhand. His return of serve is incredible. His movement. I tend to look at it and think he’s got the complete package game-wise, technically, physically, mentally.” – Gilbert
On: Can Serena Repeat 2015?
- “She can’t have another year like she had last year. She narrowly escaped so many matches, down a set, down a set and a break. It can’t happen again like that. That would be like immortal for that to happen. I think Serena, again, she just has to manage herself, manage her body, manage her schedule, manage her intensity when she’s out there. I just felt like last year she showed signs of not being motivated. There’s so many matches in the first set she played like listless tennis, lethargic, like she was going through the motions with no energy. She’d get it when she got mad in the second set. She would finally pull these matches out. I would like to see her start out from the first point and play some motivational tennis, then I think she won’t put herself in those dangerous positions. Easier said than done because once you’ve played 20 years, you don’t wake up in the morning, jump out of bed and want to go play a tennis match every day.” – Evert
- “For me, it’s simple. She’s been the greatest player, bar none, from 30 and older. She’s been the oldest player No. 1 in the last three years, 32, 33, 34. Never underestimate a Williams.” – Gilbert
On: The Next Player to Win Their First Major.
- “I think Halep could win a major…She’s come close. She reached the finals of the French. I think, again, she’s been taking baby steps the last year. She would take three steps forward, two steps back. I think she never really fulfilled the potential she had last year. Whether it’s mental or emotional, just didn’t seem to come together for her. I think in 2016 you’ll see more of her getting her act together and being more comfortable as the No. 2 player or No. 3.” — Evert
- “Right now Joker is ‘the Taxman,’ he’s just collecting, plain and simple. The over/under on him winning majors this year is three. Then you got Fed still playing amazing, Murray at 2, then Rafa. I think if it was going to be somebody, I think it has to be one of the young players, whether or not it’s a Kyrgios or something like that. Somebody that has a big game and catches lightning in a bottle. I have a hard time seeing somebody from that five, six, seven, guys that have been around for a long time.” – Gilbert
On: The Ageless Wonder that is Federer
- “Roger’s always looking for the edge. Maybe there’s a little shock value in it (changing coaches). Can you give me something that’s just out of the box, edgy that maybe I can think about and bring into a match with Djokovic? It just shows by changing coaches he’s still in the hunt and still really wants it badly. He definitely could still win a major. – Evert
- “The question, honest to God, that I get asked, I get asked a hundred times day on Twitter about what can Roger do to win a slam. It’s incredible, people ask about everything that he does. I’m like, first of all, at 34, he’s still playing amazing tennis. He’s right in the thick of things. He’s just got to be able to find a way to beat a guy that’s six years younger than him in a slam final. That’s basically it in a nutshell.” – Gilbert
On: A Third Major DownUnder for Azarenka?
- “I think she’s a player we should be talking about and focusing on right now because she’s the best player out there as of now with all the injuries. We’ve only had one or two weeks, but she is on the uphill. She certainly loves Australia. She’s won it twice. She definitely last year played really well. I thought she played really well, but kept bumping into Serena. She challenged her more than any other player. I think she’s a player that, if she’s healthy, she’s the one to watch. She’s going to be dangerous. She’s got to be one of the two or three favorites for winning the Australian Open. I love the way she played last year. I love how aggressive she was.” – Evert
On: The “Aging” of the top 10, 20, both Men and Women.
- “It’s the physicality of the game, the athleticism you have to have to be a top player. It’s almost like 18 is the new 15. When I say 15, I look back at Monica, Steffi, Hingis, Capriati, Evert. I look back at those players at 15, that’s when they beat the No. 1 player in the world at that time, that’s when they started winning tournaments. That was the age where it started to happen. I don’t think you’re going to see any 15-year-old girls doing that in this day and age. It’s more like you’re going to see maybe an 18-year-old girl do it because of, again, the physicality of the game.” – Evert
- “I think the biggest change is the game has gotten more physical and it’s gotten more mentally demanding. I just think that the way guys and women are taking care of themselves, it’s no problem now playing into your early 30s. I just think it’s taking a little bit longer sometimes to develop mentally along with physically, and just how tough the game is. Not to mention, the top guys and women are making so much money, they can all afford their own teams. It just makes them stronger.” – Gilbert
Q- On the women’s side, Serena, after the year she had last year, starting this year with a little injury, is it possible for her to keep that motivation and keep things going? Do you think this little injury is a sign of anything or just another little bump in the Serena road? On the men’s side, Djokovic, how long can he maintain this level of excellence? I saw that Andy Murray was saying when he plays the way he’s playing, it really is difficult for anybody else to catch him at this point.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I’ll take the Serena question. That remains to be seen, how bad the injury is. I mean, I don’t think anybody really knows. Obviously, as you get older, as she’s getting older, she’s having more and more injuries. I think that knee was a niggling injury last year on and off. I would think with the time off that she had, she took the whole fall off, then just played a couple TeamTennis matches, I’m surprised she has an injury, to put it bluntly. After the US Open, she had all that time, more than any of the other women tennis players, then just a few matches. I’m a little surprised she would have an injury seeing that was the off-season. You knew she took a lot of rest time, rejuvenation time. It might be precautionary where she just wants to save herself for the Australian Open. But, I mean, I would sort of lean towards that than it’s a bad injury and she’s going to be out for a few more weeks. But I want to add, it’s sort of a muddled picture right now in the women’s game when you look at the Australian as far as Sharapova, Halep, Muguruza, Kvitova, and Serena all having injuries.
Q- The top six women. That’s not good.
CHRISSIE EVERT: No. I don’t think we’ve ever seen this before, ever. Aren’t you supposed to be fresh after the fall? Aren’t you supposed to be fresh in the beginning of the year? Are they overtraining? I don’t know what the reason is, but it is a muddled picture. We just have to take it day by day at this point.
BRAD GILBERT: On the men’s side, seems like everybody is fairly healthy. They have a shorter off-season than the ladies by a month. But your question on Djokovic, how long can he keep it going. I’ll just say this: he’s an incredibly young 28. He’s in the prime of his career. To me, he’s set to do some unbelievable damage the next couple of years. He had one of the most dominant years last year. I said at the start of the year I thought he would win at least three. Right now he is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen, ever, and that’s anybody. First of all, he has incredible defense and movement. Most people think about that as the basis.
The biggest change in the last two years, the reason why I think he’s become almost invincible, is how much more controlled offense he’s played. The more I watch him play now, the more I start seeing a lot of the same things that he’s doing offensively as Andre Agassi. I’m sure (indiscernible) influenced him to play a lot more offensively. Just the way he’s playing right now, I think he’s going to have an incredibly monster year.
Q- It’s crazy to think very recently Federer was considered the greatest of all time. I think Howard Bryant from ESPN, compared Djokovic to Michael Jordan. How does Djokovic’s dominance now compare to when Federer was dominating the tour? What are your expectations from Rafael Nadal this season? He’s coming back from a pretty down year. Do you think he can win the French and turn things around?
BRAD GILBERT: I mean, Fed dominated in ’05 and ’06. He’s had some amazing years. I think what’s catching everybody here is the way that Djokovic is dominating, and this seems to be a deep time. This is not a weaker era by any means in men’s tennis. To me, more than anything, it’s just absolutely full credit to Djokovic who won his first major in 2008, doesn’t win his next one till 2011. He had four consecutive years at being No. 3. Usually when somebody is this great, whether or not it’s a man or a woman, it happens younger, their dominance. His dominance is starting later. Like I said, full credit to him to keep improving and becoming this incredible beast on the court. Rafa, I think he might do a bit better than last year. But as you saw in the final of Doha, at the moment he’s nowhere near beating Djokovic on any surface. Obviously that will be his priority, trying to figure that out, trying to beat the guys in front of him. I do expect him to move up from 5, but I don’t know exactly where to.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think when Brad said about the era, I agree with him. I don’t necessarily think eras, there have been some eras that have been better in the past than in the future, but No. 1 players, there’s always improvement from the last decade. I think where Djokovic excels is just the physical – like Brad said – the defense, the offense, and he’s mentally just head and shoulders above everyone else. I think in the Roger era, the physical thing was awesome. But Roger maybe didn’t have as much of the defense, maybe didn’t have as much of the mental. But he certainly was majestic in the physical part. I think Djokovic, like Brad says, if he has another two or three majestic years, he could very well be right up there with Federer. We keep saying the best that ever was. He’s certainly looking that way if he stays motivated. I think Rafa has sort of had a resurgence. The thing is, he got killed by Djokovic, but he didn’t play badly. He’s still pretty much in the fall beating the players he should beat. He had a win on Stan and Murray. He seems to be at least taking care of everyone else. As far as Djokovic, really Djokovic has his number.
Q- Is it fair to say that you’re saying Djokovic’s dominance is more impressive than Federer’s was?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I would give it a few more years before I can say that.
BRAD GILBERT: Obviously his dominance last year, and the length of it, ’11 through ’15, he’s finished four of the last five years No. 1. If he does it again next year, it might be the best five- or six-year cycle ever. He’s 16 consecutive finals. The all-time record is Lendl, Federer 17. His consistency week in and week out has just been outrageous.
Q- Questions about Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard. Brad, what does the recent wins do for his confidence? What do you anticipate these recent wins will allow him to move into the Aussie Open, is he within striking distance of doing some damage?
BRAD GILBERT: Let’s say this. The sleeve looked healthy. He struggled last year with his health, the foot, the back. The second half of the year, he couldn’t sustain his level because he just really wasn’t that healthy.
I watched him play in Abu Dhabi. I watched him play a couple matches in Brisbane. I thought he played very well. The one thing now, for Australia, he’ll be seeded in that 13, 14 range, so you’re going to potentially play a 1 to 4 seed in the Round of 16. He is at the mercy of the draw a little bit. But I do expect him, as long as he’s healthy, to get back in the top 8. He had a coaching change. Bringing in Carlos Moya should be interesting. I think first and foremost with him, it starts with health and return of serve. Can he improve upon those two things? If he can, he’ll get results.
Q- What do you anticipate time-wise with the coaching relationship? Do you think there’s going to be a period of time where it takes time for those two guys to gel together?
BRAD GILBERT: I feel like sometimes with the coaching change, sometimes it’s instant success. Usually the player wants to do what he can, as much as he can to impress and play for the coach. I’m not surprised to see a good result right away when you switch the coach. It usually kind of invigorates the player. It’s not always the case. There’s no blueprint for how these things are going to go, how you’re going to gel. It always helps when the player has a little more talent. It gives the coach more to work with. The more I watch the Missile, first and foremost his health. But when he plays the top four or five guys, it’s all about his return game. He can’t hold serve invincibly against those guys as he can against some of the other guys. That’s where his return numbers matter more than anything.
Q- Is he a slam potential down the road? Do you think he has that?
BRAD GILBERT: You know what, I’ll just say this: blame Joker because he’s not giving up anything.
Q- Chrissie, in Eugenie’s situation, she’s put together a couple wins together. In terms of where she stands right now, would you put her in a sleeper pick?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, she’s definitely a dark horse and a dangerous player, no doubt about it. There’s nowhere for her to go but up at this point. She had such a poor 2015. It’s interesting. When players have such a downfall like that, I always feel like I want to tell them, Go watch videos of yourself when you were playing your best, Wimbledon and French in 2014, notice what you were doing differently. It still has to be a little bit more than confidence. Confidence is a huge thing. But I just think she’s got to have a different attitude. Hopefully she’s learned that through the last year, just to become more devoted and more disciplined in her tennis. She certainly was with Nick Saviano. Nick Saviano is a pretty demanding coach and got the best out of her. She has to get back to that mindset, that discipline, really sort of get the blinders out and just focus on tennis and really nothing else at this point if she wants to get her game back up. There’s a little progress that is starting to show. With each match, that confidence is going to build and build and build. Hopefully for her, she can get back to where she was. It’s going to be, as Victoria Azarenka will tell you, even if you’re playing well, it’s going to be a slow ascent because there’s so many good players out there. The depth is great. She might not get great draws every week. So it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough for her, an uphill climb. I’m happy, and I think the tennis world is rooting for her to accumulate, put together some matches, get that confidence back.
BRAD GILBERT: The one thing for Genie, she needs some wins, 10 or 15 wins over the first couple months, get her ranking to where she starts getting seeded. You’re at the mercy of the draw. The rankings say she’s ranked at 47. She’s at the mercy of the draws. More than anything, I call winning breeds more winning and gets you physically stronger. She just needs a lot of match play and winning.
Q- She has a lawsuit ongoing. Do you think that’s something that is going to loom over her season until that gets resolved?
CHRISSIE EVERT: That’s what I mean about getting the blinders on. I think she had a lot going on last year, the media attention, being on the covers of magazines, a lot of demands on her time. She definitely lost a little focus there. Then, of course, it skyrocketed at the US Open. Again, she was starting to win some matches, then all of a sudden that happened. I think she definitely was distracted. I think all these things that are happening outside of tennis are distracting and taking away from her focus, absolutely. She needs calm around her. As Brad alluded, and I alluded, she needs to build up some wins. She is a confidence player. She is so aggressive. She goes for all of her shots. You need a lot of confidence for that. She doesn’t know how to play defensive tennis. She doesn’t know how to play rally ball moderate tennis. She just goes for every shot. You have to really have confidence if you’re going to play that way because not a lot of women play that way.
Q- Are you surprised that both on the women’s and men’s side there are not more young players competing with the top-level players?
BRAD GILBERT: One thing for sure, on the men’s side, right now the average age in the top 10 is almost 30. I think the biggest change is the game has gotten more physical and it’s gotten more mentally demanding.
I just think that the way guys and women are taking care of themselves, it’s no problem now playing into your early 30s. I just think it’s taking a little bit longer sometimes to develop mentally along with physically, and just how tough the game is. Not to mention, the top guys and women are making so much money, they can all afford their own teams. It just makes them stronger. These players are being more consistent for longer periods of time, especially on the men’s side. Albeit, I still think on the women’s, we’re going to see some youth. Very soon we’re going to see it on the men’s. I think it’s reciprocal, but at some point youth will come back.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think on the women’s side, I think it’s the same thing. It’s the physicality of the game, the athleticism you have to have to be a top player. It’s almost like 18 is the new 15. When I say 15, I look back at Monica, Steffi, Hingis, Capriati, Evert. I look back at those players at 15, that’s when they beat the No. 1 player in the world at that time, that’s when they started winning tournaments. That was the age where it started to happen. I don’t think you’re going to see any 15-year-old girls doing that in this day and age. It’s more like you’re going to see maybe an 18-year-old girl do it because of, again, the physicality of the game. I agree with Brad. The older players are staying in longer because they can, because they’re being helped by the big teams that they have. There is more longevity. They’re not leaving the game like they used to by 30 years old, so… I think it all comes down to the physical part of the game. It’s just different than it ever has been in any era.
BRAD GILBERT: Interesting on the men’s side, all of the top guys were good as teenagers. Obviously Rafa is the last one to win a major as a teenager. Fed was already great by the time he was 17, 18. I coached Murray when he was 18. Djokovic when he was 19, he was already 3 in the world. That was the last generation when all these guys have come in there pretty good. I think at some point when you do have changeover, I’m seeing a lot of exciting players coming up. Canada, you have maybe the best 21-and-under player in the world, bar none, who is 15. I expect by the time he’s 18 to be doing big damage. I’m not ruling out that youth is going away. There’s just a lot less of them.
Q- I want to ask you about Kevin Anderson. He’s a guy who had a breakthrough at the US Open. He’s hovering around 10, 12 in the world. For you what is the upside to him? What is his greatest stumbling block?
BRAD GILBERT: It’s a good question. We’ve had quite a few guys in the last few years play their best tennis of their career 29 to 31. I think Melzer was about 30 when he made his first semis of a major, got in the top 10. Anderson is about 11. He’s an unbelievably hard worker. He’s one of those guys, like Chrissie is talking about, his game has taken a little longer to mature. But I feel like he’s willed himself into being a good pro. He’s right in the same level as Isner. But to make another level to where these guys are, a couple things, it comes down to winning more in the majors, making deeper runs. He’s got Berdych to blame, 0-15 to him, how many times he’s lost to that guy. I think more than anything it’s making more runs in the second weeks, and the return of serve.
His serve is phenomenal, but can he break enough when he plays against the big guys. I do think one match was a tough one for him, who knows what happened. If he would have beaten Djokovic at Wimbledon when he was up two sets. That was a big match for him. He finally made his first quarter. I think for him, a great goal would be to make London, make the semis of a major and make London. That would be a great goal.
Q- Chrissie, I know you’ve worked on and off throughout the years with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. What is her greatest accomplishment and upside?
CHRISSIE EVERT: She kind of got killed by Bouchard. I was kind of surprised at that score. You know, Bethanie is very athletic, very talented. She has a big upside, but a big downside, too. The problem is she’s not consistent. I think sometimes her choice of shots, when to go into the net. I’m not quite sure that her choices are always the right choices. I think she has such a creative mind that it hurts her sometimes as much as it can help her. She’s unpredictable. That’s why she’s going to be dangerous and give the top players close matches. But when it comes down to the pressure points, can she be consistent, can she manage herself really consistently. I’m not quite sure that’s in her DNA. I just think she’s so aggressive, always going for it, she only knows how to play one way. But I think the top players, they know, they have the ability to know when to hold back and when to be neutral and also when to be aggressive. I just get a sense that she only knows one gear. But I love her dearly.
Q- Is it okay for her to be (just) a top doubles player?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, no, because she’s shown she can be a great singles player. She’s shown us in the last two years she picked up her singles play, picked up her ranking, picked up some big wins. I think in her mind she concentrated more on singles in the last two years than she did on doubles because she felt that she needed to prove to herself she could be a great singles player as well as doubles player. I think she still has that focus. I think in her mind she wouldn’t be satisfied being just a great doubles player. I don’t think she would be satisfied.
Q- A question about Djokovic. If you’re coaching a player against Novak with the way he’s playing, how do you do it? What do you say other than being honest and saying that it’s going to be a bad day?
BRAD GILBERT: First of all, you know me, I’m crazy, but there’s always variables in the player you’re coaching against what his game is, what his capabilities are when he is playing Djokovic. But one thing is for sure. When you’re playing somebody that’s playing at that level, whether or not it was Fed in ’05, ’06, Andre, Pete, Chrissie in her era, somebody that is invincible, you feel you have to play absolutely beyond your capabilities, it makes it harder to tick all the boxes. I think more than anything, when you do play somebody that’s playing that amazing, you have to play within your capabilities, and you can’t be thinking you’re 3-0 out of the gate. If I don’t do this or that, I can be down 6-1. You have to let the match flow and you have to try to be able to play within yourself. It is easier for some of the guys that play huge, if you have a game where you kind of play big, to then be able to go bigger when you play against Djokovic. I call that instead of shooting long twos, you’re shooting threes on everything, because that is your game. That is a way to get lucky doing that. If you’re going to think that you’re going to out-grind Djokovic, it just doesn’t happen. But I do think if you can play big, it’s in your capabilities, that’s your best shot at the moment. When you’re coaching against him, you’re looking at a lot of losses at the moment.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think when you play somebody like Djokovic who rules and dominates the baseline as well as he does, you have to break up his rhythm. First of all, one thing you can control is your serve. I’d get a big percentage of first serves in. I think you’ve got to get him off the baseline. That might mean short cross-court angles, dropshots. Easier said than done. I think you can’t just trade groundstrokes with him. You’ve got to break up his game. Federer has that ability to come in on some pretty good shots. If you have a volley, you got to come in on him a little bit, see what that does. I think you have to experiment a little bit when you play him. Again, if you have that type of game, like Andy Murray, he has the second or third greatest groundstrokes around, and he still can’t beat Djokovic. If you know in your heart you can’t beat him from the baseline, you’ve got to come up with some dropshots, angles, net play. You’ve got to mix it up.
BRAD GILBERT: I did watch a couple of the tapes last year when Fed did beat Djokovic on a faster court at Dubai and Cincinnati, Karlovic beat him at Doha. We saw Stan Wawrinka do it at the French, amazing amount of winners. You have to keep the points short and pull the trigger, not fearing I call it littering up the stat sheet. That’s what I mean, if it’s in your capability to play big, that’s what you have to do. Keeping the points as short as possible and going as big as possible.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Play your style, but you have to go up a notch.
Q- Azarenka, I get the sense she could have played the end of last year in the fall, but she decided to shut it down, relearn her footwork. She looked really good to start the year. Seems to have a lot of upside. What are your thoughts?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think she’s a player we should be talking about and focusing on right now because she’s the best player out there as of now with all the injuries. We’ve only had one or two weeks, but she is on the uphill. She certainly loves Australia. She’s won it twice. She definitely last year played really well. I thought she played really well, but kept bumping into Serena. She challenged her more than any other player. I think she’s a player that, if she’s healthy, she’s the one to watch. She’s going to be dangerous. She’s got to be one of the two or three favorites for winning the Australian Open. I love the way she played last year. I love how aggressive she was. I felt like she lost a step a little bit, but she’s worked this fall and gotten it back. I love that she’s working with Sascha because he knows Serena and he knows the other women’s games inside and out. I’m happy for her. She’s been through a tough couple years. I always thought she has a champions’s mentality. I would like to see that ranking go up and maybe get some easier draws this year.
BRAD GILBERT: She’s ranked 16, she’ll be seeded 15. She could be playing one of the top four seeds in the Round of 16. Basically all of them are injured. She came off of a long layoff playing great. I think this surface suits her game. Obviously Serena is a bit of a mystery at the moment. First thought, you think she is the favorite. I’m not sure where she is on the betting favorite, but I would think she would be in the top two or three. I watched her play at Cincinnati last year. She was smoking the ball, playing incredible. Then like after winning two matches incredibly easy, she tweaked something. For her it’s all about staying healthy. I think if she stays healthy, she’s for sure going to win a slam in 2016 and get back in the top three in the world. I think she’s just too talented. I think from what I saw of her in Brisbane, I mean, she just blitzed the field, absolutely blitzed the field.
That’s a great start. As long as she can stay healthy…I think at least one and top three in the world.
Q- Despite the fact that Serena and Novak have been so dominant, we have Flavia Pennetta winning the US Open, Marin Cilic winning the US Open. Who do you think, who hasn’t won a Grand Slam, to potentially win one of the majors this year?
CHRISSIE EVERT: That kind of narrows the field. I was going to say I think Azarenka can definitely win one.
Well, you know, I’m going to say, looking at the field, Halep. I think Halep could win a major. I think Simona has never won a major. She’s come close. She reached the finals of the French. I think, again, she’s been taking baby steps the last year. She would take three steps forward, two steps back. I think she never really fulfilled the potential she had last year. Whether it’s mental or emotional, just didn’t seem to come together for her. I think in 2016 you’ll see more of her getting her act together and being more comfortable as the No. 2 player or No. 3.
BRAD GILBERT: Halep is 2. Sharapova dropped to 5.
CHRISSIE EVERT: She’ll feel more comfortable. I think certainly working with Darren Cahill is going to be a plus for her. He’s a pretty good coach. I’ll put my money on her.
BRAD GILBERT: I get the feeling that unless something happens, like the Open when Cilic won it, it was oppressively hot, unless something like that happens, we have the hottest French or Wimbledon, something like that, right now Joker is the taxman, he’s just collecting, plain and simple. The over/under on him winning majors this year is three. Then you got Fed still playing amazing, Murray at 2, then Rafa. I think if it was going to be somebody, I think it has to be one of the young players, whether or not it’s a Kyrgios or something like that. Somebody that has a big game and catches lightning in a bottle. I have a hard time seeing somebody from that five, six, seven, guys that have been around for a long time. The Kyrgios thing, that was an absolute perfect storm. I didn’t see something like that happening last year and I don’t again this year. If I do see it happening, Joker has to lose like in the first week of a major. I think it would be one of these under 22-year-olds.
Q- You don’t see Berdych or Tsonga?
BRAD GILBERT: No, I don’t.
CHRISSIE EVERT: What about Raonic?
BRAD GILBERT: It just depends. When you’re ranked 13 to 16, it’s so difficult to win a slam, you potentially have to beat three of the four of the big four, three of these top-five guys. That’s the problem on the men’s side from somebody coming from outside. What Stan has done to win his two majors is maybe the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen because he’s beaten 1 and 2. It’s nothing short of impossible to ask somebody to beat three of them. I just think that’s the difficulty. The only way it can happen, to me honestly, is if you had, like, something happen where all of a sudden there were two of the three of the top-five guys that lost in the first week, where somebody didn’t have to beat those guys in back-to-back matches. That’s the only way. It’s so difficult for somebody to come and beat Federer, Djokovic back-to-back, Murray, Djokovic back-to-back. We saw Stan do it last year, but it’s a huge proposition.
THE MODERATOR: Raonic is the youngest player in the top 15.
BRAD GILBERT: I think his stock is moving back up this year to where it was in ’14, that he’ll maybe be in much better position for ’17.
CHRISSIE EVERT: You’re right. There has to be a hole in the draw somewhere. He’s going to have to have help from the draw somewhere. He’s beaten or come close with everybody. He always has close matches with the top players. I think he’s maturing as we speak. There is a possibility with him.
Q- With Roger Federer hiring Ljubicic, what can he bring to the team? What’s realistically achievable for Roger this year?
BRAD GILBERT: You know what’s amazing about Roger at 34, the two years he had Edberg, he had amazing years for me at his age, he was in the thick of things. He still feels like he wants to get better. He’s not afraid to make switches and do things and tinker with his team to try to get better, the guys he’s chasing. He played against Roger and he’s coached in the last three years. He coached Milos his first tournament back. He loses to the former coach. But I think he thinks he’ll give him a lot of input on these guys, on Murray, on Joker, on Rafa, guys that he played against and coached against. I think that’s what he must have thought. I was surprised by the move. But, like I said, he’s not afraid to tinker with his team.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I think that Stefan really did help his game and brought it to another level. But I think at some point maybe you get a little too comfortable. Maybe they got too comfortable being together. Well, is there anything else you can add? I think it was good strategy but not good enough to win a major. Roger’s always looking for the edge. Maybe there’s a little shock value in it. Can you give me something that’s just out of the box, edgy that maybe I can think about and bring into a match with Djokovic? It just shows by changing coaches he’s still in the hunt and still really wants it badly. He definitely could still win a major.
Q- What style of game does Sloane Stephens need to play? Are you encouraged by her title? Do you see her heading in the right direction?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Well, it’s one tournament. She looked good. She looked good in that one tournament. She sort of had an up-and-down year last year. I think she needs to sustain the commitment to her game. She’s, again, up and down. Some days she looks like — well, she did beat Serena Williams. Some days it looks like it’s a real effort for her to be out there. I do have a theory that everybody (develops) in their own time. Up until now, her time hasn’t been right for her. I think she’s getting to the point where you are starting to see her make a little bit more of a commitment. I think you’re seeing her being a little more aggressive. There’s a little more sense of urgency. One criticism of her game in the past has been, as talented as she is, she played the waiting game a lot. She would wait to see how her opponent was playing before she would hit the big shot. I think she’s just got to be a front-runner in these rallies more and start right away being aggressive and going for her shots with that sense of urgency. If we see that more, I mean, the world can be her oyster. She has unlimited ability. It would be good to see that for her and American tennis.
BRAD GILBERT: I feel like Sloane is a top-five athlete in the women’s game. One word that jumps out, consistency. She just needs more consistency. In the three or four tournaments where she makes some semis, finals. I think she has top-five ability. The one thing I would like to see a little more of, her get excited, have a little more fun with her attitude on the court. I think her game can get a lot better.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s almost like she needs to show everybody, including herself, how badly she wants it. You see that with Serena and with Maria. You see that with the top players. But you don’t see that with her. Body language. Better body language.
Q- Brad, one of your great strengths as a broadcaster is your knowledge of a whole range of sports, your connection with the Warriors. Now they have Steph Curry. Can you relate him to tennis players, his improvement, his strokes? Do you see anything of Roger or Novak?
BRAD GILBERT: You know what’s amazing is I’ve been thinking about this a lot, like the last six, eight months. Believe it or not, the person that Steph Curry reminds me of most by far is Novak Djokovic. I mean, they have a very similar size at 6’3″. Not to mention I saw Novak in Canada last year. He’s got a beautiful three-point shot. I even kidded him about shooting like Curry. He was like, Yeah, he shoots like me. When Curry was younger, he battled some injuries but got over them. Novak battled some breathing issues, stamina issues. He got over those. I think more than anything, the two of them kept evolving, keep improving and getting better. They’re pretty chilled guys. You see them, their size isn’t so awe-inspiring. They have a sense of greatness on the court.
Right now, those two guys I think are so similar when I watch them to how they move and how they execute. I love watching those two. They’re two of my favorites at the moment.
Q- Chrissie, when you were playing, people adored you, appealing, cheerful, America’s sweetheart. All the while this muscular player comes from Czechoslovakia. As great and fabulous as Martina was, she could never catch that spark or love from the American audience. Do you think there’s any similarity with Novak? He’s in Roger’s shadow. He’s in Nadal’s shadow. Do you think there’s any similarity there and what can Novak do?
CHRISSIE EVERT: I mean, I think that Novak, unfortunately for him, played in an era where the two probably most popular players of all time, how can you not fall in love with Roger Federer and not fall in love with Nadal, all those epic matches that they had. They were men’s tennis. They were so popular. Then Novak comes along. Maybe the game isn’t as flashy. You don’t look at him like Rafa, who is just a workhorse out there, grinding out every single point. You see Roger like a magician. Then you see Novak with a flat line, consistent, beautifully consistent game, not flashy. He’s kind of very serious. He came out very serious. I think he’s really coming into his own right now with his personality, his leadership, how funny he is. His game has gone up another notch. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Novak image-wise yet. I see we are going to see it in the next few years.
But, yeah, I guess maybe people like drama. People like excitement and drama. For me, I wasn’t drama and excitement, but I was the young American girl next door. I sort of had that label, which was attractive at that time.
BRAD GILBERT: I was thinking about it hearing you. I put Joker a lot closer to Lendl. From a smaller population. He just dominated, but there were other people more beloved. Djokovic has the personality on the court. But the most important thing for Novak is to continue doing what he can control, playing great tennis. You can’t control who the people want to root for, who they like. The thing is, when you win like 99% of the time, people are going to tend to root to see an upset. Also you have two guys that maybe have as big of rooting bases. Maybe Borg and Andre, you add in Rafa and Fed, those are the biggest four rooting bases that I’ve seen in my time. But control what he can control, and that’s the tennis court.
Q- Do you think it’s style of play, where Roger is so graceful, Rafa has that muscular charisma? As great as Djokovic is, there’s a certain mechanical element to his strokes?
CHRISSIE EVERT: It’s the game. It’s how he plays. Again, no drama. He gets the job done. It’s not spectacular. It’s the personality. He’s pretty deadpan. He’s pretty honest. But there’s not the flamboyance and excitement that people like to see in a tennis match. I can relate to that. I wasn’t exactly the most exciting player to watch. I mean, I can fully relate to that. He gets the job done. So I think it’s personality and I think it’s style of play. But I do honestly think his personality now is starting to come out more, his sense of humor is starting to come out more. His sense of leadership in the game is starting to come out more. I think you’re going to see more of that in the next couple years.
BRAD GILBERT: You hear football coaches say it all the time about the three phases of the game, offense, defense, special teams. Joker has it all. There’s nothing boring about his game. His backhand is scripted from God. Like an Andre backhand. His return of serve is incredible. His movement. I tend to look at it and think he’s got the complete package game-wise, technically, physically, mentally. I think that goes to people don’t want to give him the credit because they’re Rafa fans, they’re Fed fans. The picture I see on the other side of the net, that guy is the total package. He does everything great.
CHRISSIE EVERT: But he’s understated, and he is a spoiler when he plays those two guys. He definitely is.
Q- The Bryans, 37, no major last year for the first time in a decade. They lost the No. 1 ranking. What do you expect from them at this age, especially an Olympic year? How much is off-court work a key to players that are getting up there in age?
BRAD GILBERT: On the Bryans, at 37 you’d think singles-wise you’re pushing the envelope. They’ve had an amazing run. I think it’s the first time they’ve had for them like a non-slam year in, what, over a decade. Bob has been pretty busy. He’s got, what, three kids. He’s got a family. He’s got a lot more going on. But the guys they’re chasing, it’s not like they’re chasing any young guys. If all of a sudden you told me they won a slam in 2016, won the Olympics, got back to No. 1, wouldn’t be surprised because they’re still a dynamic team. The singles guys, they don’t have to worry about them. They’re competing against a lot of the same players that they know. I would think, more than anything, it’s probably for Bob learning the balance of having three kids and doing what he loves. They’ve been doing it for such a long time.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Brad, that’s a good answer. I think as far as the older players training, I think they have to change their training. I think they have to shorten it to where it’s more efficient. Still high intensity, but not as many hours on the court, not as many hours in the gym. That is my opinion. When you’ve had so many years of wear and tear, I think you just really need to be conscious of, again, high intensity, shorter sessions, shorter spurts, staying healthy, staying fresh in the mind. Fresh in the mind is just as important, if not more important, than fresh in the body. Yeah, I do think there has to be a little tweaking of training when you get older.
BRAD GILBERT: Did you see the diet that the chef put out that Tom Brady eats? The detail of his diet and the complexity of it, you’re shaking your head. He’s almost 40 and he’s still playing amazing. I think a lot more athletes are being able to push themselves in these type of things. There’s no off-season. Andre used to tell me when I was coaching him, the day the season ends is the day the season starts. I think as you get older you have to train smarter. The luxury of these guys making so much money, they have great teams. They’re getting great input from their teams on what they can do. When guys and women get 32, 33, it’s not like they’re in the grave. Other players are showing you can push the envelope. I think that’s making for a lot of these players thinking, When I’m 34, 35, I can still get better. I think that’s the most exciting thing for players, why they’re playing in many sports when they’re older.
Q- At the end of your careers, were you aware of changing your off-season schedules, maybe not doing as many XO’s, tweaking your training, or that wasn’t even in your mentality back then?
BRAD GILBERT: I think me, I get an F. I was doing the same thing. I learned completely when coaching Andre that making these changes when you get older, changing these things… I get an F. I was doing the same thing at 33 as I was at 21. Like Chrissie says, if you don’t change, you break your body down.
CHRISSIE EVERT: Yeah, I definitely tweaked mine. I was aware of the pounding that my body had taken. I never had one injury during my career. I don’t know why. I took care of things, like little twinges, I took care of them. I would cut my practices. Instead of practicing two hours a day or three hours a day, I’d cut it in half. I’d still do an hour in the gym. I think I did more off-court stuff. But I did cut my schedule. I tried to play a few less tournaments. On my weeks off, I totally would get away from the game because I wanted to be fresh in my mind, in my head. Thank God I met Andy, my husband. I went off with him, we went to Aspen, get away, skied. That kept me in the game for a couple more years because I stayed fresher. I look back at the players now. I would have loved to have gotten off the court and have somebody stretch me out, somebody give me a massage, somebody cook my food. We didn’t have all that back then. It’s definitely a luxury, but it’s a necessity, too, nowadays.
Q- What does Roger need to do to get over the hump and win one more? Looking ahead at the Olympics, now that golf is joining the Olympics, do you think tennis belongs in the Olympics? How seriously do the players love playing in the Olympics?
CHRISSIE EVERT: Oh, boy. I played the Olympics in ’88. I really didn’t feel like I belonged in them. It was a thrill to go over there and play in the Olympics, but I was in awe of every other sport. At that time the sports were still more amateur than pro. I know people probably got paid under the table to do things. All in all, when you looked at track and field, ice skating, gymnastics, it was something that they look forward to once every four years, whereas we had four Grand Slams a year. I always felt we had our Olympics in those four Grand Slams a year. I kind of felt like a fish out of water when I was over there. Now I don’t know. Now more and more pros are playing. These athletes are all getting paid money, they’re all making money. These aren’t amateur sports anymore.
BRAD GILBERT: I was there with you in ’88. I was with Andre in ’96 in Atlanta, I was with Roddick in 2004. I believe that the players now view it as a massive tournament. Everybody plays it. Everybody wants it. It has become a huge staple of the game ’cause it’s once every four years.
CHRISSIE EVERT: But it’s grown into that.
BRAD GILBERT: Absolutely. I don’t think it started out as that, but I believe now, you saw it when Andy Murray won it in 2012 what it meant to him. I think now it’s as big as any title. There’s no doubt for me it’s as big as any title to win it. I maybe only wish that during the Olympic year, somehow it was like Davis Cup or something like that, or maybe we didn’t have Davis Cup during that year or something like that because we have the Olympics. Maybe less of that. But it’s definitely grown into a huge event.
CHRISSIE EVERT: It belongs there now. But it took years and years for it to sort of get the feel that it belonged. Every sports person was looking at us like, What the heck are you doing here? I remember that feeling. They’re giving us the dirty looks. You’re making millions of dollars, what are you doing in this situation? We felt like rich, privileged little spoiled brats. But now tennis definitely belongs. I agree with you. It’s even higher than a Grand Slam. Some players would rather win the Olympics than a Wimbledon. Some players still view the Grand Slams as the biggest. I don’t know. I guess that’s my answer.
Q- And what does Roger need to do to get over the hump and win another slam?
BRAD GILBERT: That’s why he hired Ljubicic, to try to figure it out. The biggest thing is finding a way to beat Djokovic in best-of-five. He’s done it in best-of-three. At least for me the biggest thing is there’s nothing we can say and do, it’s just something that has to happen. The question, honest to God, that I get asked, I get asked a hundred times day on Twitter about what can Roger do to win a slam. It’s incredible, people ask about everything that he does. I’m like, first of all, at 34, he’s still playing amazing tennis. He’s right in the thick of things. He’s just got to be able to find a way to beat a guy that’s six years younger than him in a slam final. That’s basically it in a nutshell. He’s basically right there, but the guy he’s chasing may be playing at a better level than anybody who has ever played the game.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I think it’s more of a mental aspect with Roger. I’ve seen him in at least five or six matches where he could have won. He was up a set and a break, and he lost his concentration, tried some fancy shots. Consistently mentally he’s got to close matches. He’s got to continue the momentum when he’s ahead. I think he’s great when he’s behind, but I’d like to see him concentrate and focus more on every point. I think it’s the concentration. I think he lets up for a second and all of a sudden Djokovic is all over him. You just at that level can’t let up for a second. So I’d like to see him close and really just continue that concentration for a whole match.
Q- Full circle with the Serena question. Chrissie, you mentioned she had the niggling knee injuries of last year. She has had the elbow injury. She still got through all the three-setters, won 53 matches. Can she survive another year like that at 34, and the Olympics? Do you feel that would be a really bad sign if she starts struggling to that degree?
CHRISSIE EVERT: She can’t have another year like she had last year. She narrowly escaped so many matches, down a set, down a set and a break. It can’t happen again like that. That would be like immortal for that to happen. I think Serena, again, she just has to manage herself, manage her body, manage her schedule, manage her intensity when she’s out there. I just felt like last year she showed signs of not being motivated.
There’s so many matches in the first set she played like listless tennis, lethargic, like she was going through the motions with no energy. She’d get it when she got mad in the second set. She would finally pull these matches out. I would like to see her start out from the first point and play some motivational tennis, then I think she won’t put herself in those dangerous positions. Easier said than done because once you’ve played 20 years, you don’t wake up in the morning, jump out of bed and want to go play a tennis match every day. I think staying healthy, being motivated. It’s amazing, she’s so athletic. I almost sense like sometimes the more athletic you are, the more out of the box you play, the more chances you take with your body, the more you extend yourself, that’s when you get injuries. It’s amazing she hasn’t gotten more injured in her career than she has. She was injured a little bit last year, niggling injuries, but they never really prevented her from winning four Grand Slams in a row. She still got the job done. But staying healthy, staying motivated, really thinking about a good schedule for her where she gets enough rest and rehab in between I think will be key for her year.
BRAD GILBERT: For me, it’s simple. She’s been the greatest player, bar none, from 30 and older. She’s been the oldest player No. 1 in the last three years, 32, 33, 34. Never underestimate a Williams. What she’s done and been able to do for such a long period of time, she won her first major 17 years ago. But I just think more now, you know, after reading that Tom Brady article, about what he goes through, what she goes through, it’s a matter of staying healthy and staying motivated. If she does those things, she’ll be right there.
Q- What do you think about Andy’s year coming up? Do you agree if Djokovic has an off day, he’s the biggest challenge to pounce? What do you think he can do to get closer to Novak this year?
BRAD GILBERT: There’s no doubt that Murray had his most consistent year, finished the year his most consistent at No. 2. The last two years he’s had a very poor record against Fed, hasn’t beaten him, and a poor record against Djokovic. Got one win. Those are the biggest things. You can’t now hope to win a slam and hope those guys lose. More than anything, potentially, like in this tournament coming up, if Fed is on his half of the draw, maybe he has to beat both of those guys to be able to beat a slam. I think it’s 1-9 in the last year and a half against those two guys. That to me is the biggest equation. He’s got to get wins against those guys in slams.
Q- Andy obviously has a lot going on, expecting his first child in February, Olympic year, could be playing with his brother Jamie, a few coaching changes. Are these distractions? He’s obviously chasing another Grand Slam.
CHRISSIE EVERT: I just think when things outside of tennis in your personal life start to change a little bit, it depends on the person really because it can be a great thing. It can inspire you. The marriage, playing the Olympics again, playing doubles with his brother, it could be a total inspiration, and he could look at this year as, My God, I’m so excited. I have everything in line if my personal life. Now all I have to do is go out and play tennis. To some people it could be a distraction. Emotionally I feel torn. I really want to spend more time with my wife. I just have more interest now, getting older. I think it depends on how Andy views it, as an opportunity or a distraction. I tend to think that he’s going to view it as an opportunity at this point.
BRAD GILBERT: All you have to do is look at Joker who is one week younger, and he’s playing unbelievable tennis since he’s had a son. For an athlete, when you have good balance in your home life, I feel like that should even make it better on whatever you do. That goes on forever. Tennis doesn’t go on forever at this level. The balance is huge, and learning how to be able to do it. But I got no qualms that Andy won’t be able to deal and be able to balance both.
Q- Brad, something specifically about Djokovic. I think you said you predicted he would win three slams last year, and you expect the same this year. Can I ask you to stick your neck out and ask which slam he wouldn’t win this year and who might win it instead? Do you think in five years’ time we will be calling Djokovic the greatest player of all time?
BRAD GILBERT: Well, unfortunately when you don’t know the draw, those change things. If you’re going to tell me at the start of 2016, as long as he’s healthy, no injuries, nothing, in all five of those big events, four majors and the Olympics, he will be the prohibitive favorite. But every once in a while something does happen. I can’t tell you which one it won’t happen at. I do think the biggest win he had of the year was beating Anderson in that match. If he hadn’t won that match, who knows what it would have done to his year. I think to be considered the greatest ever, I think more than anything he’s going to have to win the French. If he does that, gets other five to seven majors, he’s going to be right there. His résumé will stack up against anybody’s. But I think he’ll have to win the French, to win all four of them. That will have to happen and maybe even the Olympics as well. Those are both distinct possibilities. Of the five big tournaments, I set the over/under at three and a half.